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Australian triathlete wins ‘surreal’ IRONMAN Cairns title just months after almost losing foot to infection

Matt Burton smashed the course record at IRONMAN Cairns to win the Asia-Pacific Championship title after dealing with a bone infection in his foot.

Staff Reporter
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Matt Burton put together the performance of a lifetime to take the title at IRONMAN Cairns on Sunday, with the Australian also clinching the IRONMAN Asia-Pacific Championship title.

Taking on a quality field, Burton smashed the previous bike course record set by Cam Wurf before holding on to victory with a 2:44:08 marathon split.

Remarkably, the 36-year-old took the biggest win of his career after almost losing his foot to a bone infection earlier in the season, an experience he talked about in his post-race interview.

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“This is the start of the year for me”

Explaining the story of his infection to Matt Lieto after the race, the PTO World #94 said that the issue had been troubling him since late last year.

Matt Burton wins IRONMAN Cairns with a new bike record.
[Photo Credit – Korupt Vision]

“Last December I finished second to Daniel Baekkegard in Busselton and I broke four hours at home, I’m from WA, so that was special but I actually had the infection in my foot then. I had to stop and stab a hole in my shoe just to give it some relief.

“It then didn’t fire up until January, and there were then a couple of surgeries involved and I spent four weeks total in hospital over the period and then some home hospice.

“The last time when it still wasn’t going, I asked what do should I do and they told me you either chop it off or hope these antibiotics work. Between my wife and I, that was it, I’m 36 and you can’t pick yourself up again.

“You go through enough as an athlete, there are good times but there’s a lot of struggling and testing moments and this trumped it completely.

“It kept unravelling through the start of the year. I started from zero when I came back, I’d had ten weeks off and I was PBing everyday, but it hurt like hell, I couldn’t believe how much of a battle running was.” 

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“It won’t sink in for a while”

Racing for the tenth time in Cairns, the Australian described his victory as ‘surreal’ and said that persistence was the only thing that got him back to a start line post infection.

“It’s surreal. It won’t sink in for a while, this is my tenth time to Cairns, so you start to lose hope, but people persist for long enough and eventually it sticks and today it did.” 

Recounting his race, Burton said that the time off due to the infection had meant he focused on the swim more, which saw him exit in the chase pack. Then on the bike and run, everything just clicked.

“I’d been planning to race IRONMAN Texas and chase the Pro Series, but life throws things at you some times. I upped my swim volume in the return because I couldn’t run due to where my infection was and that paid off today to come out with the chase group.

“I had the most enjoyable day on the bike, I’ve always loved riding bikes and it’s been part of my identity in the sport, but today was something different for me in the feeling and I really enjoyed it. 

“Running, the boys were always going to come at me. If you have a lead in the race you know they’ll chase you, but I guess you get a bit older and smarter and today it paid off.” 

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“This is life changing”

Along with a slot to the IRONMAN World Championship in Kona and 5,000 Pro Series points, Burton was rewarded for his win in Cairns with $28,000 of the prize purse, with his victory a ‘life changing’ experience.

“This is life changing for me. My wife and I have a 2 and a half year old child and we’ve moved back in with my mother in law, just so I could come back from hospital and get back into it.

“I won IRONMAN Western Australia in 2021 and you never think the days will come, but they’re still what motivate you to put in the hard days and for me triathlon and endurance sport has been the bigger challenge in life for me.

“I played Aussie Rules and a little bit of cricket growing up, and I didn’t start triathlon until a little later in life. I picked it up 15 years go and it’s led me to here and it’s just super special for my son to see that today, maybe he won’t remember, but maybe it will be his first ever memory.”

Tomos Land
Written by
Tomos Land
Tomos Land is a triathlon & running journalist whose expertise lies in the professional world of short course & long distance triathlon, though he also boasts an extensive knowledge of ultra-running.
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